Credencial del PeregrinosOrigins:
The ‘Credencial’ or pilgrim’s passport evolved from letters of safe passage granted by the church or state (and sometimes the King) to people going a journey through foreign lands. Prospective travellers, both clerics and laymen, combining business with pleasure and/or pilgrimage needed a ‘licencia’ to leave the country. If pilgrims needed royal protection for their retinue, their lands, possessions and so on, they would travel with the king’s leave, ‘peregre profeturus cum licencia regis.’ A pilgrim needed to visit their priest and make confession before being given a letter stating that he/she is a bona-fide pilgrim, requesting safe passage, exemption from the payment of taxes and tolls and hospitality in the monasteries or ‘hospices’ along the way. As late as 1778 King Charles III introduced safe passage documents for both merchants and pilgrims. (This is copy of a safe-passage letter reproduced by the Confraternity of St James in South Africa)
20th century - Spain:
In the late 1950's and early 1960's five road routes leading tourists and pilgrims to Santiago were developed following existing roads. A road map of these routes for pilgrims and tourists was published for the 1954 Holy Year with information on churches, monuments, hotels and restaurants along the way. A credential was issued, with blank squares, so that travelers could obtain a stamp at the places they stopped along the road including Jaca, Valcarlos, Pamplona, Estella, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Frómista, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada and Monastery of Samos. Once they arrived in Santiago they could ask for the pilgrim diploma which was funded by the Ministry of Information and Tourism and signed by the Archbishop of Compostela. This was issued in the Holy Years of 1965, 1971 and 1976. 428 credenciales were issued to both car and walking pilgrims in 1965 : 451in 1971 and only 240 in 1976.
In 1963, Antonio Roa Irisarri, Jaime Eguaras Echávarri and José María Jimeno Jurío, members of the newly formed association of "Los Amigos de Camino de Santiago" in Estella, made a pilgrimage to Santiago dressed in Capuchin habits and leading a mule with a wagon. They designed a Pilgrim's Credential which was approved and blessed by Cardinal-Archbishop of Santiago Archbishop Fernando Quiroga Palacios.
On 14 September 2000, at a meeting of the Santiago Archdiocese, the Archconfraternity, and the Federation of Friends of Santiago Associations, an accord was reached regarding future Pilgrimage-related measures.
Because of the large growth in pilgrim numbers (In 2000 the number of pilgrims earning the Compostela 55,004, and in 2007 it was 114,026) and the increase in commercial credentials, the need for one uniform pilgrim’s credential was recognized, and agreed upon. Many more arrived at the Pilgrims’ office with credentials issued by non-recognized.
For the purposes of granting the Compostela at the Pilgrims’ Office only the credential issued by the Cathedral, or by those that are issued by Friends of Santiago Associations that clearly contain information about the religious character of the Santiago pilgrimage, will be accepted.”
LA COMPOSTELA: > 1321
Many people confuse the Compostela with an Indulgence. The Compostela is not a 'get-out-of jail-card', it is a certificate of completion awarded to pilgrims who walk or horseback ride the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela, or cycle the last 200km. The Indulgence (for the remission of sins and time spent in purgatory) is given to Catholic pilgrims only who comply with the requirements of visiting the cathedral (you don't have to walk the Camino), recite a prayer, such as the Creed o Lord's prayer, praying for His Holiness the Pope; attend mass and receive the Sacraments of confession.
The 'La Autentica' (as it was first called) was originally an 18" X 20" parchment, hand-written in Latin with a small wooden Santiago pilgrim attached to its upper left corner. A requirement for earning this document was confession and communion (but this requirement seems to have been stopped from the 18th century). The oldest copy available is dated 1321 and can be found in the archives of the Pas-de-Calais in northern France.
Before the "Autentica", pilgrims collected a scallop shell as proof of their pilgrimage to Santiago. (Paper was costly and scarce). When the name changed to the 'Compostelana' during the transition between the handwritten document and the advent of printing (which only reached Galicia in 17th century), there were two documents issued - one handwritten, carrying a 'Bula' or seal, and a printed one. There were many forgeries of this document which prompted the pope to threaten excommunication of anyone was found to be in possession of a forgery. One can imagine a group of pilgrim friends travelling to Gascony, having a good time and drinking wine. They buy a forged Compostelana and travel back to England after a nice long holiday in the sun!
After the decline in pilgrimages from the 15th century, it seems that the issue of a certificate stopped for a few centuries, was revived in the 18th century and then stopped again at the end of the 19th century.
When Walter Starkie walked to Santiago in the 1920's, 1930's and 1950's he wrote in his book The Road to Santiago about collecting his scallop shell before continuing to the cathedral.
"We proceeded along the narrow streets to the offices of the Confraternity of St. James and I was given my scallop shell, which for eleven-hundred years had been the badge of kings, prelates and beggars alike."
In the early 20th century, Cardinal José María Martín Herrera encouraged the return of organized pilgrim groups to Santiago. A medal replaced the Compostela in Holy Years (which saved printing costs and earned them some money). These were only issued in the Holy Years of 1909, 1915, 1920 and 1926.
For many years thereafter, pilgrimage was affected by the Spanish Civil War and in 1938, the Compostelana bore the words of Franco - "Prince of Spain and its supreme leader of the army."
In the late 1950's and early 1960's pilgrims who travelled on the newly established tourist roads in Spain, could claim the 'diploma' once they arrived in Santiago. This was issued in the Holy Years of 1965, 1971 and 1976.
In 1963 three members of the newly formed association of "Los Amigos de Camino de Santiago" in Estella made a pilgrimage to Santiago. They are warmly received and were issued with the new Compostelana certificates. The wording was different from the previous certificates: "Certifying pilgrims will be true pilgrims, not thugs or homeless, received wide acceptance in the Hospital of Reyes Católicos".
Until 1965 there was a special Maritime Compostela for pilgrims who sailed 40 nautical miles to Padron and then walked to Santiago from there.
Some stats claim that in 1974 only 6 Compostelas were issued. Records prior to the 1970's were lost.
In 1985 the name of the certificate was officially changed from a Compostelana to the Compostela.
When the pilgrim arrives in Santiago they visit the Pilgrim’s Office in Rua do Vilar where the ‘AMIGOS’ will check the stamps in the credencial and, if they have sufficient stamps and can attest to having walked the last 100km (cycled the last 200km) or a religious/spiritual reason, they will earn the coveted Compostela certificate. This is based on the 14th century document, in Latin with their name written on it in Latin. If you have walked the required distance for any other reason you will be give the 'tourist' certificate. Those who continue to Finisterre will also earn the Fisterana. And, if you walk to Muxia or Padron, you will earn their certificates as well.
Today one can download and print a 'virtual' Compostela from the cathedral website:
and - The 'Historia-Descripción Arqueológica de la basílica Compostelana , published in 1870,